HC Deb 14 April 1965 vol 710 cc1583-90
Mr. Graham Page

I beg to move, Amendment No. 16, in page 2, line 24, after "for", to insert: the replacement (upon the same site as those being replaced) of office premises which were in existence on 5th November 1964, so long as the cubic content of the office premises being replaced is not exceeded by more than one tenth or for". The Amendment seeks to insert a sentence into this Clause, which grants exemptions to certain developments from the necessity to go through the office development permit procedure. If I might read the first two lines of the subsection leading to the Amendment, the House will see the purpose of it. It says: Notwithstanding anything in the preceding section, an office development permit shall not be required for"— and then the Amendment is inserted: the replacement (upon the same site as those being replaced) of office premises which were in existence on 5th November 1964, so long as the cubic content of the office premises being replaced is not exceeded by more than one tenth … the purpose of the Amendment is to bring in an obviously proper exemption from the office development permit procedure, and mere replacement of an existing building, plus a certain tolerance, should not require an office development permit.

If I understood his speech correctly, in Committee upstairs the right hon. Gentleman gave us to understand that he wanted power to reduce office accommodation by refusing replacements.

Mr. Patrick Jenkin

On a point of order. I am in some confusion. The Notice Paper refers to Amendment No. 16 being in page 2, line 24, Clause 3. According to my copy of the Bill, Clause 3 is not reached until page 4. I wonder, therefore, whether we can on this occasion proceed with the Amendment, in view of this obscurity.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

I understand that it is a misprint. It makes no difference.

Mr. Page

I tried not to notice the misprint. The page and the line number were obvious, and I endeavoured to read the Amendment into the Bill at that page and in that line.

The point to which I was referring was the speech of the President of the Board of Trade during the Committee stage when he gave the Committee to understand that he desired power to refuse replacements, and therefore I should have thought the power to reduce office accommodation by refusing replacements. If the right hon. Gentleman does not accept the Amendment, all he is saying, in effect, is that he wishes to take advantage of a chance misfortune in order to reduce office accommodation, because the non-existence of premises which existed on 5th November, 1964, will have come about probably by some disaster such as fire, explosion, or what is called in insurance policies, tempest. I never quite know what that means, but we insure against it, and no doubt it can destroy buildings. The building may well be destroyed by fire and it seems proper that its owner should be entitled without question to restort it to its previous size and in modernising it have the one-tenth tolerance mentioned in the Amendment.

The Amendment refers only to office buildings which were in existence on 5th November, 1964, when the Bill was published. The President of the Board of Trade was under the mistaken idea in Committee that a similar Amendment there referred to much more than that, because he said that There are already 60 million sq. ft. of pre-war office space in the central area of London alone. The Amendment does not deal with that at all. I am not dealing with pre-war office space or bombed sites but with offices which were in existence in November last. It is therefore quite irrelevant to talk, as the right hon. Gentleman did, of there being … already 25 million to 30 million square feet of additional office building in the pipeline beyond the control of the Bill … The right hon. Gentleman said, … the fact that we seek the power of control does not mean that the rebuilding of offices would not be allowed in a great many cases on the site of old offices. All that this does is to give the Board of Trade power in the last resort, where there is a strong case, to refuse an O.D.P … "—[OFFICIAL REPORT,Standing Committee D, 4th March, 1965, c. 308–9.] Therefore, the owner whose premises have been burned down runs the risk of being refused an O.D.P. to replace those premises on the site where they existed in November, 1964.

It is not only in the case of disasters like fire or explosion that this situation may arise. The owner of an office building might quite properly wish to rebuild it to comply with the Offices, Shops and Railway Premises Act. Until the Town and Country Planning Act, 1963, permission could not be refused for a replacement of that sort without paying compensation for that refusal. In 1963 the one-tenth tolerance was removed, but that was all to do with compensation for being deprived of an established right to use property as office premises.

I know that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is well acquainted with the law of 1963 and is capable of listening to me with one ear and the Minister with the other, but I trust that he will listen to what I want to say next. In these circumstances of replacing a building it must be reasonable to allow the owner to put back what was there before, and with some tolerance, if he is modernising the building. The tolerance is only one-tenth extra. If the President of the Board of Trade had said previously, "But of course we will always grant office development permits in these cases", we should not be so concerned, but that is not what he said. In Committee he gave us clearly to understand that he wanted the power to refuse permission to replace, and he said he wanted it because if one replaces an existing old building by a modern building of the same cubic capacity, or with a tolerance of 10 per cent. increase, it meant a 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. increase in employment when it was rebuilt. This must be an exaggeration.

I cannot imagine that merely rebuilding to the same cubic capacity will provide that amount of increase in employment. Certainly it is not an argument for depriving the owner of his right to rebuild his previous office building. I hope that on this occasion the Government will not force the owner to go through all the red tape of the office development permit procedure, with the risk of being turned down and told that he cannot rebuild, being left with a derelict site for seven years without any compensation for it. This is a deliberate confiscation of the rights of ownership of property.

If the owner were to be given compensation for not being allowed to rebuild on a derelict site there might be some justice in the matter, but in this case he runs the risk of being forbidden to rebuild his office premises, which may have been burnt down by fire, for the period during which the Measure operates.

Mr. MacColl

There is not really anything new that I can say about this matter, because it was fully explored in Committee, and the hon. Member has not added anything to what was said then. The process of the argument is very simple, although the results are a little complicated. The point is that if we start with office space in an existing office building and then replace it with modern methods, we have not only the increased tolerance of 10 per cent. under the Amendment but an increase in employment in the building, owing to those modern methods, which amounts to more than the increase in the total size of the building. There is a double increase.

The hon. Member said that he thought that the figure of between 30 per cent. and 40 per cent. resulting from a 10 per cent. increase was very much exaggerated. All I can say is that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade has shown his usual care and moderation of statement, because the last Government, in their White Paper Cmnd. 1952, fixed it at 40 per cent. The right hon. Gentleman allowed 10 per cent. tolerance the other way, and said that it might not be as much as 40 per cent.

These figures are not figures invented by this Government. They are figures used by the last Government, and they were the justification for that Government's introducing the 1963 Act which, as the hon. Member says, altered the whole basis of the Third Schedule of the 1962 Act. The reason for this was that it had been proved that the operating of the old Third Schedule, which the hon. Member wants to exempt, was driving a coach and horses through the whole business of trying to keep down office development.

The reason why my right hon. Friend referred to 60 million sq. ft. of pre-war office space was nothing to do with war damage; that was the only figure available. That was the base from which we started. Since then a good deal more rebuilding has taken place, and the problem is therefore even greater.

12.45 a.m.

That is not to say that, if one insists, replacement of this sort should get office development permission. It does not mean that office development permission will be refused in every case. All it says is that there must be a check and control over replacement if one is to keep down office building. That is well founded in the policy of the White Paper Cmnd. 1952, and it was behind the 1963 Act. Therefore, I could not advise the House that it would be wise to accept the Amendment.

Mr. Graham Page

The hon. Gentleman has addressed his remarks mainly to the 10 per cent. increase. Would he be prepared to accept this principle if there were not that 10 per cent. increase? Is he prepared to accept the principle that the owner should be allowed to replace exactly the cubic capacity that he had before?

Mr. MacColl

There are two points. There is the point about substituting gross floor space for cubic capacity. The other point is about the 10 per cent. If one had the same cubic capacity, one would have more office space for people to occupy and, therefore, one would get more people. The position is made even worse with the 10 per cent. In order to ensure that one does not get an increase of employment in a given area of office space, one must have O.D.P.s to control it.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Jay

I beg to move Amendment No. 17, in page 4, line 8, to leave out from "section" to "the" in line 10.

We have shown ourselves throughout the Bill very willing to listen to the opinions of hon. Members on both sides of the House and to make Amendments to the Bill accordingly. We are doing so in this case, as hon. Members will have observed. The suggestion was made during the Committee stage that it would be more convenient for both developers and planning authorities if the conception of gross floor space for an office building was substituted for that of net floor space. We undertook to consider that. We did so, and came to the conclusion on the whole that the point was valid and that this would be a more convenient and workable arrangement from everybody's point of view. We have, therefore, introduced the conception of gross floor space into the Bill, and there are a number of consequential Amendments here.

We thought, however, that, if we were doing that, it was fair at the same time to raise the minimum level from 2,500 to 3,000 sq. ft.; otherwise we should have been diminishing the amount of floor space.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

Order. For the purpose of clarification, does the right hon. Gentleman wish to discuss at the same time Amendments No. 18, in line 12, leave out "2,500" and insert "3,000", No. 19, in line 20, leave out "amount of floor space" and insert "number of square feet", and No. 20, line 21, leave out "2,500 square feet" and insert "3,000"

Mr. Jay

I would wish to do that, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I think that it would be for the convenience of everybody.

Mr. Deputy-Speaker

If so, that may be done.

Mr. John Hall

To clarify the position still further, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, I think that it would be for the convenience of the House if the following Amendments were also considered at the same time:

Amendment No. 22, in page 5, line 35, leave out "2,500" and insert "3,000".

Amendment No. 23, in page 6, line 18, leave out subsection (7).

Amendment No. 29, in Clause 7, page 9, line 3, at end insert "office".

Amendment No. 30, in line 18, leave out from "section" to "the" in line 19.

Amendment No. 31, in line 21, leave out "2,500" and insert "3,000".

Amendment No. 32, in line 24, leave out "amount of floor space" and insert "number of square feet".

Amendment No. 47, in Clause 13, page 15, line 40, at end insert: (3) In this Part of this Act "office floor space" means gross floor space comprised in office premises; and for the purposes of this Part of this Act the amount of any such space shall be ascertained by external measurement of that space, whether the office premises in question are or are to be bounded (wholly or partly) by external walls of a building or not.

Mr. Jay

I agree, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In any case, they are consequential. It would probably be more convenient to take them in this group.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

If that is so, that may be done.

Mr. Jay

I think that we are all being helpful over this.

It would have reduced the minimum if we had altered the definition from net floor space to gross floor space and left the figure at 2,500 sq. ft. We have therefore raised it to 3,000 sq. ft. I am advised that the result will be almost the same. In some cases, there will probably be a net increase in the floor space which does not require an O.D.P. as a result of the change, but it will be, if not negligible, at any rate very small. I think, therefore, that everybody will be in favour of this change, and I commend it to the House.

Mr. Hall

We welcome the Amendments not so much because of the change to external measurements, on which we had differing views, but because we have looked at the calculations very carefully and have come to the conclusion that they result in a slight net gain over and above the 2,500 sq. ft. previously allowed.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: In line 8, leave out from "section" to "the" in line 10.

In line 12, leave out "2,500" and insert "3,000".

In line 20, leave out "amount of floor space" and insert "number of square feet".

In line 21, leave out "2,500 square feet" and insert "3,000".—[Mr. Jay.]